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February 3rd, 2009
07:56 AM ET

Living on food stamps for a month

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/US/01/30/am.callebs.foodstamps.blog/Callebs.foodstamps.cnn.art.jpg caption="CNN's Sean Callebs reports on what it's like to live off food stamps for a month."]

Sean Callebs
CNN Correspondent

Monday Feb. 2, 2009

10:40 PM ET – I thought the story about living on food stamps would generate a healthy amount of interest, but I was surprised by number of e-mails and calls I received . First things first. For breakfast I had a bowl of cereal, a banana, and tea. An hour later I was starving. I wondered if this was what the future held. Lunch, and a peanut butter sandwich, and iced tea did the trick, hunger pangs gone. Dinner was spaghetti and meat sauce made from lean ground beef. So far, so good. A lot of the folks who contacted me thought it was going to be hard to make it 28 days on food stamps. Others questioned my shopping habits. One person wrote that I was "whining" about not buying enough fruits and vegetables and basically blistered me for not doing a better job. Come on, I am trying! Rutgers University called about a program they have to fight hunger in America. The USDA, which oversees the food stamp program, also contacted me. They commended CNN for focusing on the problem of hunger in America. USDA officials say I am exactly right in saying the sour economy has pushed some people who never thought they would need government assistance into welfare lines. I will definitely talk more with them over the next four weeks. No running on Monday. We did reports from 6am, through 8pm. I will shoot for a long run on Tuesday. On a lighter note, anyone who watched the live shots Monday on American Morning may have noticed the Elvis magnets on the fridge. One of the PR Directors from Elvis Presley Enterprises sent me a message on Facebook. He got a kick out of the magnets, but also said the story was a reality check.

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Filed under: Economy • Sean Callebs
soundoff (8 Responses)
  1. Shawana Smith

    Have you ever tried 1 lb of beans(any type) and rice and cornbread. This meal will last you for 3 days. You can buy capri suns ($1.88) for your lunch in case you start craving for that caffiene. This will last you for 10 days. Try the food pantry, its free, but there are restrictions of applying. Your income! You have to basically lie how much you make and why you are applying for free food. I like to know the list of things you buy for each week. I can make $44 stretch for one person you just have to know what to cook to your meals stretch. That way you will still have room to splurge for a bag of doritos or maybe that caffiene.

    February 4, 2009 at 2:21 pm |
  2. Jaymes Grace

    How is Sean Calleb's going on a 14 day fast going to help low income Americans learn how to eat happily and healthy on $6.25 per day? I ask this because after viewing Sean's shopping trip, that is exactly what he is setting himself up for! With $176, I could feed Sean breakfast, lunch and dinner, invite friends over for a meal and prepare a candle light dinner or two for Sean and a date!

    Before you question my statement, let me assure you that I have, up until recently been feeding myself and an occasional guest on $50 per month. I am happy, not hungry, and unfortunately have lost very little weight!

    Let may say before I get into the errors of Sean's grocery list; that I have never written to anyone, but this is important, because our people need to know that they will be ok; that then can eat successfully on a moderate income.

    So what should Sean have purchased? Will first off Sean said that the nutritionist told him to keep up his carbs, which is good news for Sean. So what was wrong with his shopping spree? He bought potatoes-great but then why buy instant potatoes. The key to living and eating on a budget is first to cook (from scratch), processed foods bad and expensive. Zattarans? Where was the 2lb bag of rice and the 1lb bag of brown rice? I couldn't tell what Sean purchased for lunch, but it looked processed; again not a good look. Sean can cook a little extra at dinner for lunch the next day. Oh, by-the-way, did you know that cup of noodles is 10 cents each at Wal-Mart? Great for snacks as well as lunch (if you have to have something processed.)

    Ok, to continue the list of what Sean will want to buy next month to get it right and be happy in the process. 18 count carton of eggs, 2 cans of salmon, a couple cans of sardines, about $10 worth of selected pasta, a couple of bags of french fries (I know), some jelly to go with that peanut butter he bought, $10 worth of beans , 1 sleeve of garlic, a couple of onions, a 1lb bag of carrots, 1 or 2 heads of cabbage, perhaps a head of red cabbage, a pound of either fresh broccoli or green beans though both would be great, and for later in the month Sean will need some frozen vegetables, usually you'll find the best price of store brand bags of peas, corn, and maybe carrots, but feel free to indulge a smidgen here. And speaking of indulgence, I would suggest at least 1 pie (whichever is on sale), but two would be better. Now here is where the money is spent...1 package of keibalsa, 2 lbs of raw shrimp sell on, 2 lbs of fresh frozen salmon, 1 bag (can't remember the quantity) of frozen chicken breast , but that does remind me that Sean should pick up between 3 and 4 packs of ramen noodles, 1 lb of bacon (at $3.99 or less), $4 of thin slice pork chops, $4 of ground beef (at $2.99 lb) and a steak priced at no more than $3 for one or two for around $5, and a flank steak or london broil for about $7 and a bag of either whitefish or pollock for about $4 and a $4 or less bag of chicken wings, a lb block of cheese, and a couple of loaves of bread, one a nice grain and the other a specialty bread.

    If Sean drinks coffee, a small can of chock full of nuts coffee and powder coffee mate creamer, oh, and some jelly to go with that peanut butter he bought. Ok, also gonna need some tea bags-generic and a couple of boxes of cereal (what ever you like that is on sale!) You will also want 2 jars of spaghetti sauce price at no more than $2.50 each and a small carton of heavy whipping cream and a gal of 2% or 1% milk (stays fresher longer, besides being better for you.) If Sean would like to buy soda, juice, cookies or condiments, he should make a trip to the dollar store for each of those items. Oh and pick up some pickles and an inexpensive bag of tortilla chips, and a bag of popcorn kernels. Sean should have enough money remaining fro fresh fruit, ice cream and fresh vegetables, purchased later in the month. If I am correct, this grocery list would well fit into Sean's $176 budget. Now all Sean needs is menu planning lessons, cooking lessons and some friends to stop by to help him eat all this food

    February 4, 2009 at 6:33 am |
  3. Rain

    Thank you for doing this. Also, what others have stated here about doing fresh food, and purchasing things like potatoes and carrots and even bread dough, you can save money doing these things. Akaisha is right on with their post.
    I can't wait to keep reading to see how things go for you. I was also touched and so glad you made the comment about how wasteful we are. I see it every day in all we do. We're so used to instant gratification in all we do, to buying goods and tossing them when they don't work only to spend more money instead of repairing it and making it last. We buy things just to buy them and we buy and waste food just because so many can. Many, however, are truly beginning to feel it and I hope it helps many take a second look at where we've gone wrong.

    February 4, 2009 at 2:02 am |
  4. jim

    buy rice, potatoes, pasta, fresh fruits and veggies, breads, tea, fishes. and cook EVERYTHING yourself and you can do it...

    February 3, 2009 at 6:50 pm |
  5. Stacy

    I think it's very cool that you're doing this. Any chance your reports will end up on "360" for those of us that can't watch "American Morning"? I'm tired of watching segments with people like Suze Orman who are completely out of touch when it comes to Americans who are truly struggling.

    Good luck!

    February 3, 2009 at 5:44 pm |
  6. Akaisha

    I was shocked that Sean went straight for the packaged foods instead of fresh. Everyone knows that when you purchase packaged food you pay extra and the nutrition, flavor and quality is less than 'real' food.

    Go to the fresh section, buy 10 pounds each of carrots, potatoes, and onions, get a fresh chicken and use a crock pot. Utilize the bones in the soup after the meat is eaten. Buy a bag of rice. Go to the bulk food store and get bulk cheese, seeds, nuts and tofu/soy for protein. Buy dried fruit, bulk granola, and juice the carrots. Buy some bacon and utilize the fat for flavor after you have fried the bacon. You can make your potatoes and onions taste great if you use that left over bacon fat. Or if that scares you, buy some olive oil. Mash your own potatoes. Buy your meats on sale- they call those the 'butcher's specials'.

    C'mon Sean, you can do this. Use your head and get creative. Don't fail us here. We don't need another news program to tell us how difficult it is to live life. Turn it around and use this opportunity to inspire your viewers.

    You can do this. Good luck.

    February 3, 2009 at 4:05 pm |
  7. Annie Kate

    We used to get food stamps. It was hard feeding a family on food stamps. I was glad we didn't need them long. There was another program that supplemented for about 6 to 12 months called WIC (womens, infants, children) for when you had a newborn – it was very targeted concentrating on milk, cheese, formula, etc. I actually liked it better because I knew with it that no matter how lean times were for the rest of us the baby would at least have something to eat. They also had you check in at times when the baby's vaccinations were due so you would get those along with your WIC vouchers – one of the best constructed programs the gov't had I thought.

    February 3, 2009 at 2:52 pm |
  8. GF, Los Angeles

    Food stamps are suppose to be a TEMPORARY supplement to working people who are not earning enough money at the time. If people intend to use food stamps and other government assistance as the sole means of survival, well then this country will break under that burden. With $10 billion a year already going to support illegals here in CA – we're stuck with a $42 billion dollar deficit that's growing. Teachers are being laid off here. How much more can America take in supporting those who choose not to better themselves and support themselves? My parents came to this country barely able to speak English yet we've never had to use food stamps and welfare due to the hard work they put into each day. Enough of the handouts. No more raising food stamps. What incentive are we giving people to better themselves if we continue to give away free money?

    February 3, 2009 at 12:18 pm |